UCLA Health has introduced thermal cameras at medical building entrances to provide quick, no-contact temperature checks to screen employees, patients and hospital visitors for COVID-19.
The six cameras – at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, UCLA Santa Monica and 200 UCLA Medical Plaza – can screen multiple visitors for fever, within seconds. The technology allows for greater efficiency and speed of entry, while promoting physical distancing. They replace the process of an employee positioning a hand-held thermometer an inch from a person’s forehead.
“It is that last measure of protection,” says Michael Burke, MHA, executive director of international services for UCLA Health. “It’s our patients, staff and visitors all going through the seamless measure of precaution.”
The thermal screenings are coupled with COVID-19 symptom questionnaires. UCLA Health officials say they’re doing everything possible to protect hospital patients as well as those seeking wellness checks or visiting a loved one.
“We know that not only are people afraid of coming into health care settings. There’s increasing data that some of that care that’s being deferred is resulting in harm to patients, whether it’s surgery being delayed or routine preventative care,” says Dan Uslan, MD, co-chief infection prevention officer for UCLA Health. “It’s important that patients recognize the hospital’s a safe place to come.”
The new cameras are one of many safety measures instituted as UCLA Health is fully open to see patients and provide care.
Each InVid camera costs about $20,000 and measures temperature by capturing different levels of infrared light that are emitted by the body. Dr. Uslan says the equipment is as safe as an ordinary thermometer. The manufacturer says they are accurate within 0.54 degrees Fahrenheit.
UCLA Health patients and visitors will see a roped entry area with a sign reading, “You are now entering a temperature screening area.” The thermal camera can capture the temperature of anyone standing within a 10-by-10-foot space.
Burke says the thermal cameras, which are affixed to tall tripods, are so unobtrusive that many people don’t realize they’ve already been screened.
“A lot of people don’t notice it,” Burke says. “They’ll walk by and say, ‘Aren’t you going to take my temperature?’”
While moving through the screening area, people are asked to stay six feet apart and remove head coverings to ensure accuracy or instead request a manual temperature screening. An employee reviews the images sent to a computer screen of each face with a red or green box marking fever status for all entrants.
Visitors receive a mask if they aren’t already wearing one and respond to a COVID-19 symptom survey.
“Having the temperature screening is also a final checkpoint for someone to say, ‘You don’t have a face covering’ or ‘That mask should not be around your chin, it needs to be around your nose and mouth,’” Dr. Uslan says. “It’s almost like TSA where you’ve got someone to say, ‘Throw away that bottle of water.’”
The threshold for a fever is 100 degrees and above. If a would-be visitor has a fever, the person would be denied entrance but provided home care information and instructions to contact a health care provider.
Depending on a patient’s health needs, an appointment might be rescheduled or the patient would don a medical-grade mask and be taken to an isolated area, Burke says. An employee with a fever would undergo further screening, but most likely be sent home.
In early April, when staff were taking temperatures with manual infrared probes, up to 10 employees registered a fever or symptoms out of 5,000 screened each day. But now, Burke says, the number of fevers detected each day is most often zero.
For one thing, patients receive detailed instructions in advance about staying home if they have a temperature or other symptoms of the coronavirus. Employees who face a daily temperature screening are also thinking twice about their state of health before coming to work.
“Having a system like this is sending a really powerful message: It’s not the time to tough it out and come to work when you’re sick,” Dr. Uslan says. “Now is the time to stay home and rest.”
Dr. Uslan says it hasn’t been determined yet if the thermal cameras, which started being installed in May, will remain in use after the pandemic ends, such as during flu season.
“Even when COVID isn’t here, having people with a fever, whether it’s an employee or a visitor walking around the hospital where we have vulnerable patients, is never going to be something we want,” he says.